Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Another thousand meters, a matter of seconds, and the F-18 jet would have crossed I-805 and crashed in the uninhabited western terrain of Miramar Air Base. Assuming the pilot’s successful ejection, the event would have been a scary and costly “incident.” As it was, the aircraft destroyed two houses and killed four members of a family—an infant, a 15-month old child, a wife, and her mother. The “incident” thus became a Christmas-season tragedy.

I suspect the pilot was following the railroad valley that separates the apartment-rich area around University Towne Center from the residential housing to the south. I once lived in an apartment to the north and spent many hours walking through the canyon’s trails. Amid the usual finger pointing and outrage that the deadly crash has spawned, the amazing comments of the grieving husband and father, Dong Yun Yoon, haven’t received the attention they deserve.

During a gut-wrenching seven minutes before national media cameras (with jets flying overhead) this simple man of faith, backed by his pastor and members of his religious community, exhibited qualities seldom seen under such circumstances.

Of the pilot Yoon said, “Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident.” Yoon also referred to the pilot as “one of our treasures for the country” and said that he didn’t blame him for the accident: “I know he did everything he could.”

Remarkably, Yoon also said, “I know there are many people who have experienced more terrible things”—a statement that’s certainly true, but not for most Americans whose current “catastrophes” center on 401(k)s, home values, and job security.

Rather than expressing bitterness, Yoon said, “It was God’s blessing that I met her about four years ago… She was such a lovely wife and mother... I just miss her so much.” He also expressed confidence that God would take care of the loved ones that had been so violently ripped from him. Yoon was uncertain, however, what he could say to his father-in-law, whose grief he also took upon himself: “I don’t know if he will ever forgive me.”

Whether this attitude will survive contemporary pressures toward litigation and recrimination is unclear. I recently saw a news scroll that said Yoon was seeking legal representation—a reasonable action for which he can hardly be criticized. I suspect that many folks would be reassured by a more “typical” response from Yoon—especially those folks who discount religious faith and who view Yoon’s willingness to forgive as a sign that he hasn’t yet been Americanized.

Then there are those who feel that Yoon’s response harks back to a spirit of grace and gratitude that many of us have lost—to the ability to think of others and thank God, even in the midst of great suffering. What’s undoubtedly the case is that the spirit exhibited by Dung Yun Yoon reflects the true spirit of Christmas—the spirit of divine hope and forgiveness in a world filled with darkness.

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